Creative Dining Builds Community Through Dining Experiences

A college dining experience is about more than just the food, said Jim Erickson, director of Union dining services.

“I look at what we do here as encompassing so many different things,” he said. “Obviously we want the food here to be good, but we want the experience in here to be good. It’s a place where you build community; it’s a place where you get to know people.”

Fall decoration in the cafeteria

Creative Dining Services took over operation of Union’s dining in June, and Erickson said there were some things they knew they wanted to implement from the start. He said they were focused on what the student experience would be, and they wanted it to be a positive experience for everyone, including employees.

Employees work to get lunch ready for students.

“There are a lot of different areas that we look at on this,” Erickson said. “Food is naturally one of the first ones. What is the quality, the variety, the presentation on food? Are we serving what students are going to want to eat, that they’ll feel like they’re getting a good value for their meal plan?”

He said dining services has increased the perception of value by giving more options. Brewer Dining Hall now has a fully stocked salad bar, a grill, a pizza area and a taqueria, in addition to the regular homestyle station.

The salad bar in the Brewer Dining Hall

Signs show where lines are location in the cafeteria

“We put in the taqueria concept and Emma and Charlie’s pizza because we know that those two items are popular with college students,” Erickson said. “I think that probably those have a pretty wide appeal.”

Erickson said dining services is working with students with allergies to ensure they have something to eat without having to make it themselves.

The dining hall also has an allergen area with things like gluten-free bread and dairy-free milk. Erickson hopes to expand the allergen area soon so that people with allergies can have hot meals, not just a sandwich or salad option.

Allergen aware section of the cafeteria

He said Creative Dining Services is uniquely suited to deal with those kinds of things because it is a small food service company. That gives them the flexibility to adjust to what their clients need. He said he looks at their relationship with Union as a partnership.

“We kind of downplay that we’re Creative Dining and make it into Union dining services and really try to promote the school,” he said.

Student response to the changes in the dining hall has been mostly positive. In a survey sent out in late October, students were asked to rate their experiences in the dining hall and give suggestions. About 85 percent of the students who participated said they were either very happy or happy with their experiences.

Jim Erickson posts responses to comments left on the suggestion board.

The dining hall also recently added a comment and suggestion board where students can give feedback about meals. Erickson said most of the suggestions there have been about simple things like adding lids for coffee cups. He said he plans to answer every question or comment that is posted.

“There are always things that we can do better,” he said. “And we’re going to keep improving to make it the best it can be.”

Erickson has worked with Creative Dining for 22 years, and he said he loves everything about it. He said the dining hall is one of the main places on campus that he sees community being built.

Jim Erickson, Food Service Director and Chef Manager, smiles in the Brewer Dining Hall

“There’s something about sitting down and eating,” he said. “If you’ve got good food, it helps foster the relationship between people. If you’ve got a place where you don’t want to come and eat, it really doesn’t do that.”

Lady Bulldogs take on LSU and UK Basketball Teams

Article and photos by Cody Cunningham, graduate assistant in sports information

Coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance and a Gulf South Conference Championship in the first season eligible for the NCAA postseason, Coach Mark Campbell and the Lady Bulldog basketball team decided to take on some of the best teams in the country. To open up its season Union traveled to Louisiana State University and then on to the University of Kentucky for exhibition matches to provide a revealing test for the 2015-16 squad.

_MG_5957 Playing in Division I venues is a far different experience than taking on opponents in the Lady Bulldogs home gym, Fred Delay Gymnasium. For a comparison, The Fred holds 2,200 fans when at capacity. In contrast, LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center holds 13,215 spectators. However, the differences don’t stop there. The SEC arenas come adorned with video boards along and above the courts as well as marching bands behind the goals, just to name a few.

_MG_5983 The big lights might be a shock for some of the Lady Bulldogs, but for one they are all too familiar. Carnecia Williams, a junior transfer from Mississippi State, has played in these gyms for the last two years, and that experience certainly has its advantages.

Although games against the elite college basketball teams in the country seem like a morale killer to those on the outside, Coach Campbell likened it to an “impossible mountain to climb” said it shows his team what needs improvement.

_MG_6040 “Ultimately, I think it accomplishes what we want it to accomplish,” Campbell said. “People are going to have better players than us. They are going to be taller, going to be faster, and stronger … and that exposes our weaknesses.”

Although the Lady Bulldogs lost both contests versus SEC teams, they won their other exhibition match against Division III Rhodes College, 87-63. Union kicks off conference play Dec. 3 at 6 p.m., hosting Shorter.

For complete coverage of Union basketball, visit and follow along on social media @UUAthletics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram._MG_6350 _MG_6355 _MG_6377 _MG_6414

Thirteenth Annual Campus & Community Day

Today marks Union University’s thirteenth annual campus-wide service day. This is a time when faculty, staff, and students join together to give thanks to God for His protection over our campus during the 2002, 2003, and 2008 tornados. Most projects this year took place off campus, but a few groups of faculty and staff members worked around campus.

Members of Chi Omega chat with residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo.

The ladies of Chi Omega visited Regency Retirement Village to play bingo and visit with the residents.

“Volunteering, helping the residents is really fun, and they appreciate it so much…It’s really cool to get to come back and see people that you’ve seen before and get to talk to them and just to build relationships with the residents.” – Abigail Hamblen, sophomore nursing major

Abby Cox, a member of Chi Omega, gets to know residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo. Members of Chi Omega chat with residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo. Member of the cheer squad work on preparing art therapy materials at The Star Center

Members of the cheer squad volunteered at The Star Center by helping prepare art and music therapy materials and washing windows.

“Doing this shows people that great stuff is going on here is Jackson, and we’re here just to help in any way possible…Having these few friends with me to just kind of fellowship and get to know them more is really fun.” – Marcellous Jiles, junior education major

“I think that it’s so great and important because it’s tying Union back into the community…Not only are we helping the community and helping out the Star Center a little bit, but it’s also great to get to have that time to volunteer with friends.” – Sydney Fly, junior education major

Members of the cheer squad wash windows at The Star Center. Members of the cheer squad wash windows at The Star Center. Members of the cheer squad make labels for the music room shelves at The Star Center

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

A group of students led by the golf team refreshed a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

“It’s just a great way to get in touch with the community and make sure that we’re involved just as much as they are with us.” – Trey Whitnell, senior accounting major

“For the community to come help Union the year we had the tornado, to come back out and help the community and us as a golf team to get together and work for others is pretty amazing. Working with my team and the few others that joined in with us is pretty fun too. We don’t always get to get together like this a lot.” – Joy Cooper, junior business management major

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

Gaye Christy works with fellow staff members to plant flowers at the West entrance of campus.

Faculty and staff members worked on campus planting flowers, weeding and trimming trees.

“What we are doing today is one of the basics for us. It’s part of who we are as a university — serving, giving, showing compassion.” – Dub Oliver, president of the university

Karen works with fellow staff members to plant flowers at the West entrance of campus. Dub Oliver helps trim trees along the Great Lawn.

Members of the executive council pose together after trimming trees along the Great Lawn


Admissions Hosts First Bulldog Days

A total of 56 students and their parents got to know Union University at the first Bulldog Days, October 16 – 17. High school juniors and seniors came from 11 states for an overnight stay.

The students had access to information panels, campus tours and a student life and academic fair that are not typically available at a college preview day. They were able to choose between sessions that fit their needs best.

A longer visit allowed more time for students to meet professors and students from multiple departments and student organizations who were able to show off what they had to offer.

The overnight stay let students connect and bond with other prospective and current students and get a taste of what campus life is like at Union University.

Prospective students mingle with faculty and staff during a breakfast Prospective students mingle with faculty and staff during a breakfast

Student ambassador gives a tour of the cafeteria Student ambassador gives a tour of the student union building Student ambassadors lead a tour Student ambassador gives a tour.

Fonsie Guilaran teaches a sample class to prospective students Wayne Wofford gives a tour of the biology greenhouse James Kerfoot shows off our hawk to prospective students Student leaders on a panel to answer questions from prospective students Prospective students learn about student organizations.

Alumna Works for Food Justice in Jackson

Cari Griffith portrait
Cari Griffith, produce manager at Grubb’s Grocery in Jackson, said food justice is something that drives her every day, and it is a passion she discovered while a student at Union.

“My time at Union helped me challenge systems and think about what justice means,” she said. “It made me ask hard questions about food security and what poverty is in America.”

Cari graduated from Union in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She was heavily involved in starting ComeUnity Café, a café in downtown Jackson that focuses on helping people and fostering community by providing healthy food options and a place to gather.

Cari said the idea of food justice prompted her to work with the café as community garden manager.

“Healthy, sustainably produced food should be available to everyone, not just the rich,” Cari said.

She said she began diving into the idea of food justice during her junior year at Union. She went to the famers market and bought a tomato plant to grow.

“That one tomato plant turned into, hopefully, a lifetime of farming,” Cari said.

When she first started thinking about food justice, Cari said she thought of places like Africa. She did not realize that there were needs far closer to home.

“At first, I only saw this on a global scale. I thought I had to go to Africa to find those needs,” she said. “But in my four years in college, mostly through working with ministries at Union, I saw that there is a great need here in Jackson.”

In her new position at Grubb’s Grocery, Cari said she is learning more about the marketing side of growing food. She said she hopes to continue providing ways for people with lower income to eat healthy, sustainable food.Cari Griffith picking sweet potatoes in the ComeUnity Cafe garden.

Union EDGE – It’s All About The Eggs

Post by Jennifer Graves, director of The Union EDGE

Recently I was at a family gathering and was asked about our Union EDGE Program and how it was going. We are teaching our students how to cook, and we had just had our very first cooking lab. For those who know me, I’m not the cooking teacher!   My assistant director, Kevin Ung, is the head chef for the Union EDGE program. The first lesson for our students was cooking eggs. Kevin demonstrated to his eager students how to scramble eggs, fry eggs, make eggs over-easy, and how to make an omelet. Each person chose the type of eggs that he or she wanted to make, and there were examples of each type.   Ethan likes his eggs fried. Seth wanted scrambled. Taylor does not really like eggs, but had fun making them. All eight students enjoyed learning a new skill. You see, the EDGE program is all about building independence. It is about teaching skills that will allow our students to be productive, independent, and safe in the community that we all share.

Two EDGE students enjoy learning to cook eggs in class

Back to the family gathering. As I shared all about the program and what it meant to each of our student students, one person said, “It really is all about the eggs.” Yes, it is. EDGE is about eggs last week, sandwiches the next, and vegetables in the near future. It is about living life.

Jennifer Graves is the director of the new Union EDGE program, which is a two year, 48-hour Postsecondary Education Program for students with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (IDD). This program is based on the Think College national standards. To find out more, check out our website. Below are some photos taken during EDGE events.

Union EDGE employees

Kelsey laughs with her mentors during the kick-off event.

Faculty mingle with EDGE students during the kick-off event The first group of Union EDGE students Blanche participates in a music therapy lesson with her mentors Maria participates in an art therapy lesson with her mentors Seth participates in an art therapy lesson with his mentors. Faculty and staff mingle with EDGE students at a shower hosted by the first lady of the university.

Alum Reflects on Student Teacher Placement in Thailand

Naomi in Thailand

Naomi Pietenpol is a 2015 mathematics alum with a teacher licensure, who spent eight weeks in Thailand for her student teaching placement. Naomi worked in the Grace International School there and took some time to share a little about her experience.

I don’t think I’ll ever make it through another day without thinking about my international student teaching experience. The community that I was welcomed into was beautiful, godly, loving, encouraging and challenging.

I worked with students from all over the world, yes, but that’s not what made them so great; they were just great kids who made a point of telling me funny stories and saying ‘hi’ in the halls. Because of the nature of the ex-pat community I was a part of, I would see my students as I biked to the market and ran to grab lunch, and I loved every time I got to see one of them. I got to go to church with them, sit in on their Bible studies and live life with them a bit.

The co-op teacher I worked with had so much experience, and from him I learned how to teach math well — those tips and tricks that make the content more accessible to students, the kind of things you usually only find out five years into it. He and the rest of the staff were patient and encouraging, and I loved being invited into their homes for meals and watching their adorable little kids so they could have a night out, or being taken along on adventures.

Families and friends took me on adventures, and I got to see places that usually reside on postcards and in dreams. I stayed with families that made me feel like family and I learned so much about the world, relationships and the Lord just from their stories. If you’re thinking of going overseas for student teaching, know that it will be a lot of transition and good-byes that are hard, but also know that it will be an amazing experience full of beautiful sights and people.

My motto was “just do it,” and it served me well. Take every opportunity to be among the local people and the people of the school, to see beautiful things, to listen to stories and make new friends; take every chance to serve and to learn, even though you’re supposed to be the one teaching.

Naomi has accepted a position teaching middle school math at Parnassus Preparatory School in Minnesota, which is based on a classical education model.

Introducing New Athletics Coaches

Darrin McClure and Jenna Kelley PortraitThe Lady Bulldog volleyball team is working with two new coaches for the upcoming season. Darrin McClure, head coach, and Jenna Kelley, assistant coach, may be new to Union, but they are veterans of the sport. McClure comes to Union after coaching at UT Martin for seven years. He brings with him a distinct enthusiasm for Union and the community here. When asked about what drew him to Union, he noted that he really enjoyed all of the people here and the Christ-centered values.  Kelley is one of McClure’s former Martin players and has been playing the sport since fifth grade. Kelley also worked for Fellowship of Christian Athletes after receiving her MBA in 2014.

We are so excited about the level of skill and enthusiasm that McClure and Kelley are bringing to the team!  They are hoping to get the girls involved on campus and be a part of the wonderful Union community. To learn more about their backgrounds, check out these new releases from

Join us Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Fred DeLay Gym for the first home match!

Susie Oliver portrait

The other new coach for the 2015-2016 season is someone already well-acquainted with Union: our first lady and now cheer coach, Susie Oliver. She started in the sport as a cheerleader in fourth grade all the way through college and began coaching in 1980. Between coaching for national competitions and even taking a group to participate in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, Oliver brings over 30 years of experience to the table. It is obvious when talking to her that she is thrilled to be working with Union’s cheer program. Her focus right now is on recruiting and increasing the size of the squad. Oliver’s goal is to make the games a wonderful experience for fans and provide entertainment through more stunting and using both sides of the court.

Susie is eager to recruit students who are athletic and hard working, so if you know of a good candidate, don’t hesitate to contact her!

Robotics and Programming Lego Mindstorms Summer Camp

Several departments and athletic teams across campus host camps throughout the summer for local children of all ages. One example is the Robotics and Programming camp that the department of computer science organizes. Jan Wilms, department chair, started the camp seven years ago and modeled it after a camp that the physics department was doing back then. “Our department had purchased Lego Robotics kits for our Intro to Computer Science class, and they were perfect for an outreach program to middle schoolers to get them involved in science and technology,” Wilms said.

Lego Mindstorms programming interface The camp has been going on this week from 1-4pm each day. Camper Jake Lancaster said, “I like Lego camp because it’s very entertaining to program and drive the robots, and it’s fun to meet new friends.” The camp mixes fun and games with challenges like line following, maze traversal and races with the robots. Everything is built on a foundation of engineering principles and programming concepts. Wilms explains, “The kids learn about differential gears and Ackerman steering but also about advanced programming like multithreading and event-driven programming. This is possible because Lego makes available a visual programming language that is very user friendly, and the immediate feedback that the robots provide encourages trial-and-error and hones debugging skills. We even use some trigonometry that the younger ones haven’t learned yet in school, and they don’t seem to mind because it is directly applicable to getting the robot to cover the desired distance.”

Lego Mindstorms robot built at the camp Several of the campers have attended consecutive years as the camp offers something different each summer. There are many different designs available for the robots that are fun for the campers to build and test.

“Our hope is that this will inspire the kids to continue their passion and choose a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field,” says Wilms. We’ve enjoyed having these campers here all week!Camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting with a camper Campers testing their program A camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting a programming issue with a student

Union Runners Contribute to Our Jackson Home

Earlier this year, a new media group started here in Jackson called Our Jackson Home. They began with a podcast and blog and have expanded to more social media and even a beautiful magazine designed by a recent Union University art graduate. Our Jackson Home recently did a series on running, which included two Union cross country runners and an MBA graduate who is the assistant cross country coach. The series coincided with the three runners completing the Boston Marathon in April.

Here are the three posts:

We encourage you to follow along with Our Jackson Home as they tell the stories of Jackson residents and businesses. OJH has a large team of contributors behind it, many of whom graduated from Union. We’re very happy to see our graduates contributing to the local community in this way.

Bailey Bell, far left, with his teammates

Bailey Bell, far left, with his teammates

Audrey Hazelhurst, front middle, and Beth Wilson, front far right, with their teammates

Audrey Hazelhurst, front middle, and Beth Wilson, front far right, with their teammates